"Die Fledermaus," which may be the greatest collection of bright melodies ever strung on a nonsensical plot, is not an easy work to produce. It begins with an overture that has some of the trickiest stylistic pitfalls in orchestral music before Mahler, and when the curtain goes up it calls for a combination of vocal and comic talents that is not easy to find. There should be a touch of lavishness in the staging--particularly for the second act, the hilarious party given by the determinedly decadent Prince Orlovsky. The theatrical style ranges from sparkling comedy of manners to the most elemental slapstick.
We may hope to see a definitive "Fledermaus" next year when the Vienna Volksoper comes to Washington. Meanwhile, the production offered by the Prince George's Civic Opera will do quite nicely. It is not simply a good "Fledermaus" for a small company with a microscopic budget; it is a good "Fledermaus," period.
The voices are all excellent (some, naturally, more than others). The jokes make the audience laugh, the stage business is hilarious, the sets and costumes create the right illusion, with a little suspension of disbelief. The leading men are all hilarious and the leading ladies are all beautiful. The Queen Anne Auditorium at Prince George's Community College should be packed for the final performance tomorrow afternoon.
Probably the most distinctive attraction of this production is its spirit: youthful, enthusiastic and full of vitality. The cast works together vivaciously if not always with the ultimate polish, and it is obviously having as much fun as the audience.
The music is under the direction of Michael Morgan, the brilliant young conductor who has led one performance at the Vienna State Opera and who made his Washington operatic debut in July in the Summer Opera Theatre's "La Traviata." The excellent impression he made with Verdi's music is reinforced and enlarged in his treatment of the very different challenges posed by Johann Strauss Jr. His pace is sometimes a bit hectic, particularly in parts of the overture, but the musical results fully justify his decisions.
The ensembles are beautifully blended and balanced, and the orchestra supports the voices delicately most of the time--though it does yell "Shut up!" in unison at one point when a singer's efforts pass the limits of endurance. That happens during the Act III drunk scene, in which Morgan manages to make the orchestral music sound as tipsy as the people on the stage.
Top vocal honors in this production go to the leading ladies, Dorothy Kingston as Rosalinda and Teresa Ann Reid as Adele, whose singing was flawless in tone and superbly styled after a minute or two of warming up.
The funniest man on stage was David Troup in the role of Frank the jail warden. Like Stephen Stokes in the role of Alfredo the tenor, he is a fine singer who sacrificed vocal display most of the evening to increase the production's comic effect. He does falling-down drunk routines with more artistry and variety than any singer in my memory. Joseph Myering as Eisenstein balanced vocalizing and comedy deftly and Charles Ryan Ward executed some splendid sight gags in the nonsinging role of Frosch.
Lee Velta sang and acted smoothly and effectively in the important but relatively unspectacular role of Falke. There are possibilities in the role of Orlovsky still unexplored by Karen Hettinger, but she has a good voice and should be worth watching as she develops a stronger stage presence.